A Truly Lethal Weapon

To hear Scott Ellington (above), the widely respected Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of Highland Capital Management tell it, the addition of Marc Dworsky to Reid Collins & Tsai is kind of like James Bond joining forces with Seal Team 6.

And Ellington is in a good position to know. He manages 137 active firms globally in corporate transactions and litigation disputes, from single practitioners in Iowa handling a shopping center foreclosure to the Magic Circle firms in London working on complex international matters. He’s even working with a Bulgarian lawyer on the disposition of a former submarine base.

“What Marc brings to the table is a really unique skillset. Bill’s team are the special forces unit of high-stakes, complex commercial litigation, and combining those two will be, in my opinion, an extremely formidable opponent for anyone, no matter what size and sophistication, to take on. They will be truly lethal,” says Ellington.

“Special forces are four or six guys dropped in behind enemy lines, with very little intel, very few resources, and they’re asked to perform miracles,” says Ellington. “That’s what Bill's squad can do. I have matters where Bill, another partner, and a couple associates, have taken on literally 40 timekeepers. And Bill’s squad is able to bring them to their knees just like a special forces unit can wipe out a battalion by hiding and sniping them.

“When you add Marc to that mix, with his experience navigating some of the most complex financial disputes in our lifetimes, you’re talking about a very, very formidable unit,” Ellington says.

Ellington played a role in Reid and Dworsky joining forces dating back to February 2010. Ellington called Reid just three months after he had founded RCT. Ellington wanted Reid to evaluate a case against some appraisers that had the potential to become a lawsuit adverse to CBRE and Credit Suisse, and he wanted a team that included heavyweights. While Reid already had an estimable reputation, his firm then had only nine lawyers. Reid asked if Dworsky, with whom he had become friends, would suffice as a partner.

Ellington’s response was a spicy variation of, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Munger Tolles was an unlikely candidate to joint venture a contingency case with a plaintiff’s firm. But the mutual respect Reid and Dworsky had formed as adversaries on a prior malpractice claim created the trust that led to Munger Tolles handling what may have been their first-ever plaintiff’s contingency case.

“Mr. Dworsky’s reputation certainly was extremely well known, and his track record was impeccable,” said Ellington. While Munger Tolles exited the case eventually, the litigation went on to have enormous success, including a verdict against Credit Suisse exceeding $360M with interest. Reid recalls many lessons learned working with Ellington on that case, including what happened when Credit Suisse offered a substantial sum to settle it.

“I recall many discussions with Scott when we were still in the pre-suit phase and did not yet have the benefit of discovery, and the early settlement offer was tempting.” Reid was hard on Ellington, asking if he really wanted to pass up the offer, and Ellington was clear that he did. “Scott had confidence in his premonition, and that’s really all it was. So when we got the damning evidence, there were a few ‘I told you so’ conversations with Scott.”

Then RCT won a monstrous judgment against Credit Suisse, now worth more than $360M and growing, following a lengthy jury trial and bench trial. “The truth is there is a certain serendipity to the practice of law,” says Reid. “Most lawyers don’t get a chance to try a case of this magnitude. Most adversaries are chicken, and they’ll pay you before they’ll go fight you. But Credit Suisse chose this battle deliberately, and they got killed.”

It’s rare to hear corporate counsel talk about outside counsel with the praise and warmth offered by Ellington, who’s been in his current position for 12 years and has lost count of how many mediations, arbitrations, or even trials he’s overseen; more than the average bear, he allows.

Bill Reid by Dave Cross.
Bill Reid by Dave Cross.

And yet Ellington is unabashed, “It’s luck that the three of us found each other. I have lawyers that fall into one of two buckets.  There’s those my team and I have to carry on our backs and teach them everything, and they’re average to above average with their ideas, their themes. I’ve literally had to sit down and write attorney’s question sets, hand them to them, and say, ‘Ask me this.’  Ellington pauses, “And then there’s Me, Marc, and Bill, and members of Bill’s team; we literally sit down and craft all this together. And that is a rarity to the point where it is unique,” he says.

“Marc has what I think is really, really effective on the plaintiff’s side. Most of his career, he’s been the ultimate fixer, a macro problem solver, dispute resolution expert for extremely large corporate clients, mostly large investment banks,” says Ellington. “So now as he comes onto the other side of the docket, he understands that world’s playbook and how they’re going to defend themselves, negotiate, mitigate risk. Marc has already seen the inner workings and the sausage making of how any bulge bracket investment bank is going to approach the dispute.”

Ellington also praises Dworsky’s ability to evaluate what a case is worth – a skill Reid is looking forward to enhancing his team’s already formidable chops in that area. “His ability to pinpoint what another party, the counterparty, will pay in terms of settlement or how they’ll view their risk is utterly invaluable,” says Ellington. “And approaching the various inflection points that happens in all large-scale litigation of: Should we take a settlement now? What is the cost-benefit analysis going forward? What are our risks? What are our variables? Marc is a world-class expert in evaluating those and does it with the calmest, Zen-like manner that I’ve ever seen.”

And, to a seasoned general counsel, nothing says judgment like the ability to successfully manage scale, including the multibillion-dollar mortgage-backed securities litigation Dworsky oversaw for Bank of America and Wells Fargo. “He’s played for the largest stakes pretty much on the planet, and you stack that experience with the fact he has guts. A lot of guys in his field don’t have the ability to tell a client, ‘you’re screwed.’ And to tell them how bad they’re going to be screwed.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the RCT team and Dworsky are incredibly likeable as lawyers and people. “I think that’s part of that X factor. They’re able to weave in and out, and to use a common phrase, they’re hustlers. So they find a way to work the angles where a lot of lawyers get hung up in their underwear around the academics. These guys don’t,” he says.

“Imagine if you had a Ferrari and you strapped an extra engine in the front of the Ferrari, so you had one in the front and one in back and you doubled the horsepower? That’s what Marc is to RCT. He is truly a unique guy,” says Ellington. “I’ve seen the best of the best all the way down to the worst of the worst, and those two guys can go toe to toe with them, and they do it with such aplomb.”